Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Cardiacs - On Land And In The Sea

On Land And In The Sea

Released 1989 on Alphabet Business Concern
Reviewed by Double De Harrison, 02/06/2003ce

I was quite surprised to see no entries for Cardiacs on this site, and wasn’t sure whether no one cared, or whether no one had written anything about them.

A much loved, but also much hated band, they’re pretty much like Marmite on Vinyl [though evidently no as popular as the aforementioned spread].

I really don’t know about categorisation of Music, but I’d say they are pretty proggy, loads of odd time signatures and time changes, string and brass arrangements, speedy-uppy-changey-slowey-downey type of thing. Not everyone’s cup of tea, sometimes described as speeded up fairground music [but only by foolish reviewers for mainstream popular music magazines].

Although this review is dedicated to On Land and In the Sea, my personal fave, Cardiacs, [by my reckoning] have made 12 albums to date:

The Seaside
A Little Man and a House and the Whole World Window
Rude – Live at Reading
Live – Live at the Paradiso
On Land and in the Sea
Songs for Ships and Irons
All That Glitters is a Maresnest
Heaven Born and Ever Bright
Sing To God
Sampler – This Album is not a best of

[N.B. 3 albums have been released since this review was written, being: Greatest Hits, and Special Garage Concerts Volumes I and II. The latter two albums consist of Cardiacs earliest songs performed Live, so Guns is still the latest Studio Album]

This is my ordering [though not chronological], and covers to two distinct phases of Cardiacs in my mind:

The Analogue – Guitar/Vocals [Tim Smith], Bass [Jim Smith], Sax [Sarah Smith] and/ or Guitar [Bic Hayes of Levitation / Dark Star], Keys [Duck Drake], Percussion [Tim Quy], and Drums [Dominic Luckman]. A very tight Live Band with most participating in Backing Vocals, and some being Married / Divorced / Related to each other. From Archive to All That Glitters is a Maresnest.

The Digital – Guitar/Vocals [Tim Smith], Bass [Jim Smith], {Sax/Vocals [Sarah Smith], only on recorded stuff}, Guitar [Jon Poole], Drums [Dominic Luckman, later to be replaced by Bob Leith], and a sequencer More of a Studio, than a Live affair – though still very good Live, the ‘backing’ is not the same as an awesomely, spectacularly tight seven piece. From Heaven Born and Ever Bright to Guns. Sampler being an odd collective.

Anyway, to the album at hand, which for me represents the pinnacle of Cardiacs tightness and creativity, and dare I say it Power – a very large sound indeed. There are parts of this album that I swore couldn’t be done Live, the frenetic madness of Duck and Roger the Horse for example, and what song did they open with when I first saw them? Yep, they did it, and just as tight as the record. Nuts.

[N.B. this song can now be downloaded from www.cardiacs.com, However, please bear in mind that the songs are “given FREE OF CHARGE as a gesture of GOOD WILL”. To abuse this trust insults The Artists who wrote these pieces, and most of their catalogue is still available for order from the same site]

The opener, Two Bites of Cherry, a high octane speed skank, has plenty of Brass and ska’y type guitar chops, ascending piano arpeggios, synthy highs, and odd intervals where time changes take place, usually abridged by Tim’s attacky and fiddly guitar style. Loads of all band backing Vox, and the occasional percussive ping are all carried by Tim’s annoying Vocal [sounds like the neighbours rowing or something], presumably taking the subject of some kind of Egg.

Baby Heart Dirt, really sums up all that Cardiacs are, a stupidly complicated, but beautifully melodic opening that feels like doing the Cresta run whilst you’re out of your mind on dope and speed. Fantastically punctuated vocal Phrases, and lightning riffs bridging part to part from almost every member of the band. Taking the individuals parts and playing them in solo, this just wouldn’t make sense, but somehow it merges to a cacophony of stupendous wonderment. I’ll shut up now.

Horsehead, breaks up the frenzy, with Cardiacs trademark Military Bass Drum insistence [to be found all over their music], topped with another trademark sound which I can only make out to be organish in it’s origin. A soft characature of Duck Drake, backed by Sarah’s almost Kate Bush Type vocal, and Tim being soft for his Mum.

The [closing] Everso Closely Guarded Line, has quite an epic feel to it, and it’s where Tim Quy the percussionist really gets to shine. With an almost stage show, fairground feel to it, dramatic stringy/organy lines draw the whole thing to a close. Again, tempos are a kimbo, each ascent being perfectly drawn into the next phrase by a soft vocal. Duck Drake ending it on an answerphone message “I don’t know what I’m doing ……. You’re not there” and Cardiacs’ calling card the Alphabet Business Concern Glockenspiel announcing both beginning and end.

[N.B. Buds and Spawn, how could I have not mentioned that. Blinding, just blinding. Although, so is the whole of this album, so...]

I hope this nonsense has managed to get some interest in Cardiacs for you, being of the Analogue School personally, I’d highly recommend the above, Maresnest, and Little Man and a House, containing Is This the Life, their biggest single to date. Though equally, the sequenced era has plenty of real Gems too: Core, Day is Gone and Snakes-a-Sleeping from Heaven Born and Ever Bright [1992] blow me away. Nurses, Dirty Boy and Wireless, from Sing to God [1995], are just awesome. Spell with a Shell, Jitterbug, Sleep All Eyes Open and Signs, from Guns [1999], also take the listener to a very special place.

Apparently, a new Studio Album is also in progress at present (Jan 2006)

To me it seems such a shame that such an original, and talented band had to split because they couldn’t ‘afford’ to carry on. Go and check them out in their current line up, they normally do an annual outing towrds the end of every year, which is always a Spectacular Spectacular. In fact, the last few times I've seen them makes me want to revise my preference for the Analogue years. Cardiacs are now as good as they have ever been, and are probably better.


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